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VOL. 9 NO. 10
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Weather changes

Stay alert to approaching storm fronts

Weather changes

Lightning, torrential rain and rough seas can turn a pleasurable outing into a life-threatening ordeal in a heartbeat. Yet unwary boaters are too often taken by surprise, largely because they don’t realize just how fast a storm can come up or the danger it presents.

Some thunderstorms create microbursts—intense downdrafts over an area a half-mile to 3 miles wide capable of producing wind gusts from 60 mph to more than 100 mph. Microbursts can capsize a small boat or blow a passenger overboard.

The risks of swamping, capsizing, falling overboard or hitting a floating object all increase in stormy weather, so out on the water the most important equipment on board is always a Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each passenger. And plan to err on the side of caution.

Storm warnings

  • Flat clouds getting lower and thicker
  • Puffy, vertically rising clouds getting higher
  • Dark, threatening clouds, especially to the west/southwest
  • A sudden drop in temperature
  • A halo around the sun or moon
  • Increasing wind or a sudden change in wind direction
  • Flashes on the horizon
  • Seas becoming heavy
  • Heavy AM radio static, indicating nearby thunderstorm activity

What to do in severe weather

  • Reduce speed, keeping just enough power to maintain headway.
  • Make sure everyone on board is wearing a life jacket.
  • Turn on your running lights.
  • If possible, head for the nearest shore that is safe to approach.
  • Head the boat into the waves at a 45-degree angle.
  • Keep the bilges free of water.
  • Seat any passengers on the bottom of the boat, near the centerline.
  • If the engine fails, trail a sea anchor from the bow of the boat to keep it headed into the waves. (A bucket can work as a sea anchor in an emergency.)
  • Anchor the boat if necessary.
Bottom line: Weather can be both friend and foe. Boaters who stay alert to weather changes and take appropriate action help safeguard their property and the lives of everyone on board.
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